TALLAHASSEE --- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is relying on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to support arguments in a challenge to federal regulations that make it illegal for medical-marijuana patients to buy guns.
Fried, a Democrat who is running for governor, has long championed medical marijuana, which Florida voters broadly legalized in 2016. Her office also issues concealed-weapons licenses.
In April, Fried filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice that challenges a federal law and regulations she alleged "forbid Floridians from possessing or purchasing a firearm on the sole basis that they are state-law-abiding medical marijuana patients."
Fried's lawyers on Friday filed an amended complaint focusing heavily on a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying concealed weapons in public. Gun-control advocates have expressed concerns the decision could severely restrict states' ability to regulate guns.
The court's June 23 ruling said, in part, that state gun laws have to be in keeping with the country's "historical tradition" of firearm regulations.
"Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this nation's historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual's conduct falls outside the Second Amendment's 'unqualified command,'" the opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas said.
Fried's lawsuit includes plaintiffs who are medical-marijuana patients and want to have guns, as well as a plaintiff who is a gun owner and wants to participate in the state's medical-cannabis program. It contends that the restrictions are unconstitutional.
"The defendants can offer no rational explanation for why federal law would expressly protect programs that essentially turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals with no self-control," the lawsuit said. "Such a contradictory position would fall far outside of any comparable, historical regulation in this area."
The lawsuit centers, in part, on a federal form that must be completed by people seeking to purchase guns.
"Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside," the form says.
Fried's attorneys argued that prohibiting people who use medical marijuana from buying or having guns is a relatively recent development in the U.S.
"Quite simply, there is no historical tradition of denying individuals their Second Amendment rights based solely (or even partially) on the use of marijuana," the lawsuit said. "In fact, historical evidence shows that marijuana was considered a legitimate and legal form of medicine in England, America, and other western countries through the mid-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries."
According to the complaint, evidence shows that medical marijuana was used "as early as 5,000 years ago, and it reached its "medical 'heyday' in the west between 1840 and 1900."
Doctors began prescribing marijuana around 1842, but it was outlawed in 1941.
"None of the federal case law relating to whether marijuana users may be stripped of their Second Amendment rights applies to the historical analysis that Bruen (the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the New York case) requires," the plaintiffs argued.
Fried's lawsuit also pointed to a federal law, known as the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment, that bars Justice Department officials from using any of the agency's funds to prevent states with medical-marijuana programs "from implementing state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."
Previous court decisions have found that the law prohibits federal officials from spending money to prosecute people who engage in conduct permitted by state medical-marijuana laws, Fried's lawyers wrote.
The lawsuit accuses the Biden administration of defying the law.
"The defendants' enforcement of the challenged sections and challenged regulations against medical marijuana patients who comply with state law punishes them for what is legally permitted and protected conduct," the complaint argued.
In a motion filed the day the New York gun ruling was issued, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's lawyers said the Biden administration intended to file a motion to have the Florida lawsuit dismissed. The June 23 motion also asked for more time to respond to the legal challenge "so that defendants can review Bruen, analyze its relevance to this case, and apply Bruen in its forthcoming motion to dismiss."
Will Hall, an attorney with the Dean, Mead & Dunbar firm who represents the plaintiffs, told The News Service of Florida that the Supreme Court ruling puts the onus on Garland's office to justify the gun restriction.
"Our reading of the case is the federal government has to show that this regulation, which is basically treating medical marijuana patients as if they are just, per se, too violent to possess guns, has some kind of historical tradition, and we just don't see it," Hall said Tuesday.
Hall said Fried's legal team scoured the issue to see if there was "any equivalent regulation" in the distant past.
"We just can't find it," he said. "There's really no equivalent for what we have in medical marijuana now, which is that the states have made it legal and the federal government has, not just through a letter or some promise but through law, said we will protect those programs from interference."
Fried, a lawyer who is Florida's lone statewide elected Democrat, is a "huge advocate" for "reasonable gun laws that make people safer," Hall noted.
"Her view is that this regulation just doesn't make anyone more safe. If anything, it makes people less safe because it pushes them towards, if you're a medical marijuana patient who wants to buy a gun, pushes you to a private sale versus a gun store where you actually follow the ATF protocols," he said, referring to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
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